POTLUCK

Bruce Wayne felt an unaccustomed frisson of terror when Alfred laid down the law.

"No, sir. You are invited to the Justice League potluck, and not I. Therefore, I believe that it is only honest that you provide your own comestibles for the occasion. I will not be cooking for you this year. It isn't honest." Alfred took off his apron and hung it tidily from its accustomed hook.

The terror blossomed into full-bore panic. "But Alfred, you know what happens when I try to cook," Bruce Wayne, aka the Batman, said. "We have to recharge all the fire extinguishers and the results aren't edible. I have to bring something and they'll spot food from Costco and Sam's Club! It has to be home-made. Please?"

Alfred sniffed. "Master Bruce, you are a grown man capable of bringing down evil empires. You personally have assembled a batcave filled with electronics that defy description. You have designed orbiting communications and spy satellites and have the equivalent of a masters degree in chemistry. Surely it is not beyond your capabilities to bake a simple tray of snickerdoodles?" The butler shook his head and left the room.

Alone. Batman was left alone without allies. No, he remembered, there was one member of the team whose loyalty was set in concrete. No matter how tested, Dick Grayson would always have his back. He made the call.

"You want me to what?" Dick, the former Robin and current Nightwing demanded. "Bake cookies? C'mon, Bruce. I'd die for you, but I've got trouble enough trying to make sure my lasagne doesn't burn. Do you know how long it's taken me to learn to cook decently? It took Babs two years to drum basic cookery into my head. Go ask her. I'm tapped out."

Bruce put the phone down and sighed. Then he went down the stairs to the batcave and fired up the computers there. Oracle responded quickly, as she always did.

"What can I do for you, Boss?" the green icon asked.

Bruce explained his problem and the face broke apart into static. Grayson had clearly tipped her off. Finally her undisguised voice cut through the interference. "Bruce, you can easily buy a cookbook and follow simple instructions. Your intellect is beyond genius-level. I do not understand this block you have about cooking! Just follow the directions!"

Bruce had never pled so hard in his life. "But I don't understand the vocabulary, Oracle. What does 'sift' mean? Or 'cream'? When it says to add eggs, do you take the shells out first? And what's a 'medium' oven, anyway? Smaller than a large oven? I think our oven is pretty large, actually."

"Stop! Just stop," she said. "Okay, Bruce. Here is my solution. Listen carefully," Oracle said.

JLA ANNUAL POTLUCK

Hawkman sipped at his glass of ouzo, a great addition brought by Wonder Woman, along with plates of baklava and dolmates. That woman really could cook! "So, what did Batman bring this year?" he asked Green Arrow, who was busily wolfing down some fried chicken that Superman had brought.

"I don't know," Ollie admitted. "Usually Alfred makes something and Batman just pretends it's his. I think I'd be afraid to eat anything Batman made in any case. Have you ever tried his cooking?"

"I've tried yours," Hawkman replied. "Your chili never fails to eat its way through all the serving dishes."

Ollie just grinned. "It's all in the peppers, man, all in the peppers."

Tempest and Aquaman stood proudly next to the seaweed salad they'd brought, while Martian Manhunter circulated with a tray of oreo cookies.

Batman had just arrived and was setting up his covered dish next to the offerings from the rest of the Bat clan. Dick's lasagne smelled tempting, the garlic wafting on the breeze. He was glad that the boy had learned how to cook; certainly not a skill Bruce had been able to teach him. Tim had brought cocktail weenies and beans. Stephanie and Cassandra Cain had brought a multiple layer chocolate cake with little gummy bats sprinkled over the frosting.

Batman straightened. His offering might not be gourmet, but at least it didn't involve cooking and he had assembled it himself. Meticulously, he removed various objects from the dish and spread them across the table: Pepto-Bismol (liquid and tablets), Pepto-Bismol, Wet-Wipes and napkins, Aspirin, bandaids and lastly, breath-mints. And last, a bottle of Le Voyage de Delamain Cognac, five thousand dollars a bottle.

Maybe he couldn't cook, but he could plan for any occasion.